Saturday Single No. 240

Summer has arrived, culturally if not meteorologically. While the season doesn’t technically begin until just after noon on June 21, summer activities are gearing up here in mid-Minnesota. Friday afternoons see the long lines of north-bound vehicles on nearby Highway 10 navigating their ways through the traffic stops. St. Cloud provides one of the major slowing places on the route between the Twin Cities and the lake cabins found “up north,” however far north that might be. On Sunday afternoons, drivers coming from the north will find themselves again bottled up in St. Cloud as they head back toward the Twin Cities.

In the evenings – especially on weekend evenings, I expect – the aroma of charcoal-grilled meat will waft through the air. The summer breeze frequently carries with it evidence of who’s having what for dinner, either from the three apartment complexes to the north and the west of us or from the neighborhood of houses and duplexes across the railroad tracks to the south. Sometime this summer – perhaps even this evening – the Texas Gal and I will add our own olfactory bulletin to the dinnertime news: Friends gave us a brand-new grill late last summer, and we never got a chance to use it. One of my tasks today is to get a bag of charcoal and an electric charcoal starter (I don’t get along at all with the chemicals used in starter fluid), and I think it’s likely that those hamburger patties thawing in the refrigerator will find themselves in the outdoors this evening.

Gardening, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is well underway. A break in the wet weather has allowed the Texas Gal to get almost everything planted that she’s planned (with help from me as her able assistant). We brought in two bales of straw yesterday that we’ll spread out in our plot this weekend, and then we can settle down to the pleasant routine of watering, weeding and watching as the tomatoes, peppers, squashes and all the rest flourish.

The two of us – along with Rob and his sister, Mary – took part last evening in another beginning-of-summer ritual: The home opener of the St. Cloud River Bats, the local team in the Northwoods League, a summer league for major-college baseball players. In the Northwoods League, as in a few similar leagues across the country, players hit with wooden bats instead of the aluminum bats that are the standard, I think, in every level of youth baseball up through college.

The River Bats and their opponents, the Duluth Huskies, struggled offensively last evening, part of which I’d lay off to their still becoming accustomed to hitting with wood. The River Bats won 4 to 2, making the ten-minute fireworks display after the game a celebration instead of a non sequitur. Had the River Bats not won, then the fireworks, like all the other between-innings hoo-ha – kids racing tricycles on the base paths, folks competing in a paper airplane toss, young people competing to assemble big burgers from big foam buns, patties and cheese slices – would have seemed like overload. So much other stuff went on at the ballpark last night that the game seemed somehow secondary instead of the primary reason for being at the stadium.

But the same sort of promotional hijinks take place at every ballpark in the U.S., from the high minor leagues on down (and to some degree at major league parks as well), and that’s just how baseball is in the twenty-first century. So instead of finding those activities a sign of an approaching apocalypse, I’ll just file them with the rest of those things I mention here as a welcome sign of the arrival of the summer of 2011.

For me, though, the most welcome indicator that summer has come is the time the Texas Gal and I get to spend in our lawn chairs as the sun dips westward. She’ll sip a Dr. Pepper as I tend to my beer of the moment (Old Johnnie Ale from nearby Cold Spring is a current favorite), and we’ll watch the summer evening pass, serenaded by our new bamboo wind chimes and troubled only by the occasional mosquito.

And all of those things are good reasons for “It’s Summer” by the Temptations – in its brilliant and more melodic 1972 version – to be today’s Saturday Single.

(I especially like the nod to George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward at the 1:32 mark.)

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